Tapestries-9 \\ Lift-off
Musk and Twitter, conservative views, Israel's past and present, and metals.
Welcome to a bunch of new subscribers. As a quick follow-up to last week’s piece on antisemitism, here’s a link to a piece this week from Yair Rosenberg at The Atlantic: How to Learn About Jews From Jews, Rather Than the People Who Hate Them. Yair took a similar approach to the one I advocated for in last week’s Tapestry, and provides a range of great books and media that celebrate our amazing history and traditions. It’s a great list and an approach I clearly like. Check it out.
1. What I’m thinking
I can spend a lot of time on Twitter. I’ll go through weeks where I’ll browse the timeline many times a day, and then shift to avoiding the platform completely. It’s the type of platform where it’s both impossible to not be on there, and also insane to be on there. For better or for worse, Twitter is the information superhighway, and the timeline is pure information crack.
As you probably heard, Elon Musk completed his purchase of Twitter last week. The months-long process was a very public M&A circus; it was highly entertaining to begin with, but eventually became a distracting saga. But with the public markets and Delaware courts now behind us, the more interesting — and arguably more consequential — chapters are coming into view.
To quote Musk himself, the reason he acquired Twitter “is because it is important to the future of civilization to have a common digital town square, where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner, without resorting to violence.” Now that the purchase has been completed, the hand wringing is shifting to how Elon is going to turn Twitter into a right-wing hell-scape. It is borne of the view — espoused by the illiberal left — that “free speech” is a dangerous idea, and that the risk of “misinformation” requires the maintenance of a centralized apparatus of fact-checking and censorship. Suffice to say these are views I disagree with, as a pro-censorship agenda actually hastens the authoritarianism it purports to protect us from.
I don’t think Musk will turn Twitter into a batshit crazy free-for-all, partially because he doesn’t want to, but mainly because he can’t afford to. He has an almost impossible job in front of him. First, he massively overpaid for the company, and with the debt required to complete the deal, needs the company to perform strongly simply so he can cover its interest expense. This requires advertisers to hang around, hence his outreach to them to placate their concerns. Second, and arguably more consequentially for Musk, he’s staked out the most challenging front imaginable in the rolling information wars. It’s this complex challenge that leads me to believe Musk has bitten off more than he can chew, with the opening paragraph of this piece in The Verge (see section below) summing up the situation pretty neatly:
You fucked up real good, kiddo. Twitter is a disaster clown car company that is successful despite itself, and there is no possible way to grow users and revenue without making a series of enormous compromises that will ultimately destroy your reputation and possibly cause grievous damage to your other companies.
I believe Elon is earnest and authentic in his belief in the importance of free speech. I also believe he thinks he can help Twitter grow its financial value to a level commensurate with its social, cultural and political importance. I just think it’s too complex a task for anyone, let alone for someone with his unique place in the culture and global economy. Politically, he is already coming under attack from the left for what they believe the platform will become under his stewardship. Financially, he has an uphill battle to make this investment work (something that’s important to both his lenders and co-investors). And geopolitically, as a person controlling businesses with material dealings in China, Germany and the US (Tesla), who also happens to build rockets and other critical pieces of national infrastructure (SpaceX and Starlink), he will inevitably find himself in impossible situations while also owning and running the globe’s digital town square (Twitter).
Following the Twitter acquisition, like the experience of scrolling Twitter itself, has become a little exhausting. Unfortunately though, the platform and the takeover are both essential viewing, because what happens in and around Twitter going forward, will continue to have significant repercussions for the fabric of the information landscape. I’m focused on three questions from here: (1) how will a left-leaning mass media characterize Musk and the notion of free speech, (2) what changes will he actually be able to make and how successful will they be (from both product and financial perspectives), and (3) what will this mean for his empire that spans the globe, and now covers the breadth of some of its most sensitive industries.
For a guy who revels in complex problems, he may just have taken on the toughest of the lot.
2. What I’m consuming
A. Welcome to hell, Elon, by Nilay Patel in The Verge
This piece (referenced above) does a better job than I could ever do of summing up the situation Elon finds himself in. One great quote, and then I’ll leave you to read yourself if interested:
If you want more on the topic, check out the latest from Mike Solana at Pirate Wires. It’s an entertaining read, and another good primer.
B. Why I Keep Getting Mistaken for a Conservative, by Kat Rosenfield in the National Review
The title of this piece struck me because I’ve had the same experience in the last few years. I’m a progressive person, but I dislike the illiberalism, elitism and intolerance of the progressive agenda. In pushing back against progressive dogma, or merely questioning the logic of some of its positions, I’ve been viewed (explicitly and implicitly) as holding conservative views, which has made for some uncomfortable dinner conversations. I’ve found that sort of bewildering, and this piece does a fantastic job of explaining that dynamic. Good quote:
The piece reminded me of an excellent one by Liel Liebovitz in Tablet last year called The Turn, where he describes the experience of gradual alienation from a progressive camp in which he previously felt at home. I highly recommend reading both pieces if you’re interested in understanding more about what’s really just a breakdown of the traditional political spectrum. Rosenfield ends the piece with a great quote:
where political affiliation resembles a team sport, a religious faith, and a recreational witch hunt, I remain more interested in watching the game than playing it…. What are we without these labels? A tribe of the tribeless, unaffiliated and unfettered, with no choice but to get to know one another as individuals. This doesn’t sound so bad. Let’s have lunch.
An unwillingness to blindly swear allegiance to a team and parrot all of its ideas and positions feels to me like the only intellectually honest thing to do right now. But in addition to creating the space for independent thinking (something considered a “dog whistle” by many progressives), it’s also liberating in that it allows one to meet another where and as they are, without preconceived biases about who and what they are purely based on their apparent political affiliation. I often talk of dignity as a guiding principle, and this is one of its manifestations in my life. It’s a lovely piece, and I highly recommend the long read.
C. Spies of No Country: Secret Lives at the Birth of Israel, by Matti Friedman
I love spy books as a genre, I love history, and I love learning about the complexity of modern Israel. This book tied all these elements together. One mistake many people make when thinking about Israel is to assume it’s a white, European outpost squeezed in the middle of the Arab world. For a brief period at the country’s founding, that may have been true. But Israel today is a country in and of the Middle East, with the culture of Jews who lived in the Arabic world for centuries before their expulsion shaping the culture of today’s modern Israel. It’s a great short book: contemplative in its exploration of the roots of Israel’s national identity, and honest in its assessment of mistakes the country made along the way.
D. All the metals we mined, by @JesseJenkins
We spoke about rare earth metals a few weeks ago on Tapestry, specifically about who owns the global supply chain (China), and what that means for the climate and geopolitics of the future (interesting question). I’m sharing this chart as a follow-up largely because it’s just cool to see a visual representation of what we pull out of the ground.
3. What I’m writing
This edition is getting a little long, so in the interests of brevity, I won’t share more samples from the book, and perhaps save them for the next edition. In terms of process, I’ve slowly gotten back into a bit of a routine for getting more words out, and if I’m able to stick to it, should be able to get a draft done by the end of the year. I know you may not care about this, but typing and publishing these words is part of my accountability. So… thanks for being there.